While countries are focused on brands like Huawei for potential spying, budget Chinese phones from other brands with preloaded malware are posing a far greater security risk.
Security researchers have found that low-cost Chinese phones, many of which belong to a brand called Tecno, are shipping with money-stealing malware. A report by BuzzFeed News and Secure-D reveals that several Chinese mobile brands are ripping off the poor, especially in developing countries where people cannot shell out a lot of money for smartphones.
Tecno is a brand owned by Chinese mobile manufacturer Transsion. Several Tecno W2 phones, shipped to countries across the globe, come infected with malware that is meant to steal money and data from users.
Malware like Triada and xHelper, commonly found in such phones, quietly download apps, and automatically subscribe to paid services. This often leads to unexpected bills and data expenses for those who already reside in some of the most unprivileged locations in the world.
Money Stealing Malware In Chinese Phones
The concept of pre-installed malware on smartphones isn’t exactly new. In the past, brands like TCL have also faced similar issues.
But the fact that these phones come with notorious malware like Triada and xHelper is concerning. They often throw pop-ups on the screen and cause unwanted app installations. What makes it worse that they can’t be removed with just a factory reset.
These phones are heavily marketed in African countries, such as Egypt, Ghana, and South Africa. Many of these devices have also reached Indonesia and Myanmar. According to Secure-D, between March and December 2019 it had to block 844,000 malware transactions.
Response Of The Chinese Manufacturers
Transsion, the Chinese company that owns the Tecno brand, has cited an unnamed “vendor in the supply chain process” as the reason behind the pre-loaded malware. It claims that it even delivered security fixes for Triada in March 2018 and xHelper in late 2019.
But the issue still persists. Secure-D said it was blocking Triada and xHelper on Transsion phones even in April 2020, and it may simply be dormant right now.
While there’s no evidence to prove that Transsion is responsible for this, it surely doesn’t help the already deteriorating reputation of Chinese brands. Right now, several customers are anxious about their buying options and it gives birth to doubt in the minds of several would-be buyers.
Brands like Tecno thrive because it’s one of the few brands that offer devices to low-income buyers at affordable prices. If such buyers were to avoid companies like Tecno, they might not have many options in the end.